Happier Days Ahead for KC’s Happy Gillis

New ownership for the Columbus Park staple Happy Gillis builds a new era of cozy craft cuisine

It’s impossible to write anything but raves about a café while nibbling on one of its chocolate chip cookies, being careful not to drop cinnamon-scented, buttery crumbs onto the keyboard.

But there’s more than just Abbey-Jo Eans’s baked goods to like about Happy Gillis Café and Hangout, the beloved little Columbus Park diner she and husband, Josh Eans, took over from its prior owner in mid-December. The couple kept the charming interior intact with its pea-soup green walls, mismatched Formica tables, and oddball collection of salt-and-pepper shakers.

Josh says it was a tough call to leave his role as sous chef at The American Restaurant, but, “This was a family decision. Abbey-Jo and I moved into the apartment upstairs with our three kids. And we’re only open for breakfast and lunch, so I get to spend more time with them.”

The chalkboard behind the counter reveals just a handful of items, but each is revered by regulars. The biscuits and gravy ($7 or $4 for a half-order) has a soul-satisfying, cream gravy studded with sausage from Local Pig. And on one chilly January morning, patrons’ noses were put on alert from the aroma of the pickled pork tongue hash. The dish is served with a perfectly poached egg that—when stirred into the hash—lends a richness to the slightly acidic dish.

Soups range from baked potato to cabbage and pale ale with bacon. The sandwiches, a.k.a. sammos ($9), include The Stevie (a BLT with egg salad) and a tarragon chicken salad.  A kale Caesar salad topped with two fat, white anchovies and garlic breadcrumbs is a new addition.

Josh has a well-known interest in beer from small breweries (he’s a fan of Celina Tio’s new place, The Belfry) and plans to host craft beer dinners starting in March. With only 30 seats to fill, they’ll sell out quickly. Monitor the Facebook page to be first in line, or that happy face won’t be so smug.

- Katie Van Luchene